KINGMAN GUIDING ROUTE 66 STREET DRAGS REPRISAL
Nat King Cole sang, “Get your kicks on Route 66.” That’s what a swarm of drag racers mobilizing at Kingman, Ariz., Oct. 25-27 plans to do.
After an eight-year hiatus, the Kingman Route 66 Street Drags once again will block off a section of the historic highway for three days of street racing, the legal way. All the safety equipment and personnel spectators expect to see at a purpose-built dragstrip will be in place.
With an old-fashioned flag starter urging on every pair on Friday’s the test-and-tune action in Grudge, Unlimited, Pro Street, Hot Rod, Pure Street, Sport Compact, Truck, Motorcycle, and Jr. Dragster classes will run from noon-9 p.m. (Gates open at 11 a.m. Friday.) Racers will use a full timing system on the track and stage their cars with the normal staging beams, with yellow lights on top, but Friday only, the Christmas Tree will have no other lights.
The unique event will continue Saturday with gates opening at 8 a.m. and time trials from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. A Celebrity Challenge will pit the mayors and police chiefs of nearby Bullhead City and Lake Havasu during Saturday’s program. Each racer will have two passes to make the Quick 8 in every class. Those Quick 8 will square off in Sunday’s 9 a.m.-4 p.m. eliminations, vying for the champion’s cash prize and custom-designed trophy.
Those who didn’t make the Quick 8 will continue to compete in the Grudge class, which allows them to match up against racers from different classes.
Tickets – priced at $10 Friday, $15 Saturday, and $15 Sunday – will be sold at the gate. (The only tickets available for advance purchase are for the Hospitality Suite.) Grandstand seating will accommodate about 4,000 spectators.
Promoter Brian Devincenzi hastily arranged and completed the inaugural Kingman Route 66 Street Drags in an astonishing 10 days, which he also quickly learned wasn’t ideal and didn’t accomplish what he intended.
“I started out with an organization called Route 66 Wings and Wheels. They were a non-profit 501(c)(3) designation, same as we are now. We’re doing this for the love of drag racing, the betterment of our community and the preservation of Route 66,” he said.
However, in the beginning, a move was underfoot to put a motorsports facility in the Kingman area. Devincenzi said, “I thought this event would be a wonderful fundraising opportunity, and to be quite frank with you, I was completely wrong. It consumes the lion's share of the revenue it generates just to put it on.”
As for the first attempt, he said, “I don't want to try that again. You understand it can be done. Now, you just figure out how to do it better.”
He has acquired some valuable help in local real-estate agent and budget manager Dana Marino and Dicken Wear, a motorsports journalist and a well-entrenched automotive-industry engineer and entrepreneur, for his steering committee. Along the way, they have attracted such knowledgeable volunteers as Racing Director Michael Valandingham (Kingman businessman) and Kenny Larson of Fast Track Racing (longtime sand-drags starter and promoter), Jeff Matthes (Devincenzi’s right-hand man), hospitality specialist Steve Elliott, and track-prep expert Austin Hayward, the competition director at Houston Raceway Park.
Maybe more importantly, Devincenzi discovered a more agreeable political climate for this first Kingman Route 66 Street Drags since 2011. And it has made all the different in the world.
“We can’t explain it all. For some reason the atmosphere – when I say the atmosphere, I mean the attitude of the city, the attitude of the state, the attitude of the economy, the attitude of the general public are completely different today than they were the last time we did it,” he said.
“The economy is better. I don’t like to delve into the political side of things, but our city council's completely different. Our mayor is different and our past mayor, Monica Gates, gave us a huge thumbs-up, as well. Our city manager is different, and we have the most amazing tourism director, Josh Noble. Without him, we would not be where we are today. His support has meant everything for this event. Everything is different and there's a different attitude. The attitude seems to be ‘We used to have these things. We would like them to be back.’ That’s the attitude of the city today. This event was good for us, and it was a good thing for the entire community of Kingman. We should bring this back. And I was the guy for the last eight years reaching over and tapping somebody on the shoulder or reminding them about it. They finally said, ‘You know what? We not only want it back. We want it back as an annual event,’” Devincenzi said.
During that eight-year gap, Devincenzi wasn’t idle. He finally got the green light to resurrect the event about a year ago.
“It took a good seven years of trying to get their attention, trying to get them to re-address it,” he said. “One of the new city councilmen is a friend of mine. I spoke with him privately. He seemed to champion the cause and took it to the city. We got a city manager who he himself has done event production. So he understands what events do. And his whole philosophy was ‘Our community needs these. We need good things to happen.’ He was totally supportive.”
The assumption is that blocking off a section of a famous and historic highway would present special problems. But Devincenzi said that wasn’t the case.
“I'd like to tell you a fancy story and say yes – but it didn’t, because everybody today” has embraced it, he said.
By “everybody,” Devincenzi said, he meant the city's staff which includes Arizona Department of Transportation, the sheriff's department, the police department, the fire department, and the city works. “Everybody involved is in these meetings, and we have joined in making this work for us and for Kingman. They see the detail we've gone to. Dana and I have done an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes detailed work to make sure that we dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t,’ and that's why it's working. That's why the city is comfortable with it.”
Marino has the fun job of saying, “OK, you want that. How are we going to pay for it?”
“I'm the bad guy,” she joked, “and Brian knows – we’ve got to pay for it. We’ve done this before, so he knows that. We have to make some hard decisions and decide whether we go forward with [this or] that. If we’re going to add something, we’ve got to get someone to sponsor that. So we just come together as a group. It's a great team. There are seven others. We come together and go, ‘OK. How are we going to make this happen?’ We bounce ideas off of each other at our meetings. We try to hold them to an hour, but they usually about three, three-and-a-half hours. We have that meeting before we go into the other monthly meeting with the city.
“We bring any issues that we need resolved and the city, like Brian said, in the past has been a little, ‘Well, I don't know if we can do that. I don't know.’ Now it's like, ‘What do you need? How can we help you? Let’s tackle this together.’ It’s great,” Marino said. “They have just bent over backwards to help us put this together. It definitely is a huge team effort. And I'm really, really proud of Kingman for standing up and seeing the vision that we have for this event, and I'm really pleased with that.
“But you know, it's a juggling act. It's all about money,” she said. “The cost of building the facility and putting on the race has almost doubled since 2011.”
Both Devincenzi and Marino readily agree their sponsors are key.
Devincenzi said, “We want to give a huge shout-out to the sponsors. The lion’s share of those come from the city of Kingman. And the reason I'm giving the shout-out is because without them, without their involvement, we couldn’t do this. They fund this. They staff this. They're the people who step up, volunteer, and who are actually part of our organization that makes this thing happen. I'm a drag racer, too. I am very familiar with what it takes to operate a permanent, purpose-built facility. This is a city street, and we transform it into this racing facility and then back to a city street again in less than 10 days. That undertaking is monumental, and the people who open their wallets up and those who volunteer [make it happen]. We couldn’t do it without them.”
NAPA and NAPA Auto Parts is the title sponsor. Mertens Heavy Equipment Repair is the lane sponsor. Martin Swanty Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership will host the Hospitality Suite, and Martin Swanty Hyundai present the trophy girls. Both Best Western Plus King’s Inn & Suite and Motel 6 West serve as host hotels.
Class sponsors are Arthur’s A-1 Well, Century 21 Barbara Ricca Realty and Property Management, and Harley-Davidson Mother Road.
Among the sponsors are Southwest Hospitality Party Rentals, Hooch’s Kingman Grille, Dunkin’ (Dunkin’ Donuts, Stockton Hill Road), Jersey Mike’s, The Original Competition Engineering. Marino called for “shout-outs to Chicago Title, Eagle Realty, and Real Property Management for having our backs.”
“The list goes on and on,” Devincenzi said. “I like to be able to give everybody kudos for this, but I am I'm giving the whole city kudos. This is an organized group event.
“I think the biggest thing that I've seen is more individuals openly excited about this coming, and that's encouraging,” he said. “That’s part of what drives me. When you go to people and you knock on doors all the time and you're trying to get funding, you're trying to get advertisers, or you're trying to get people involved, when they respond to you as positively as we're getting this time, it's encouraging. It's an energy. It's a fuel and it helps me.”
Marino said she senses the new vibe, too: “It helps when the businesses say, ‘Anything for Kingman. What do we need to do?’”
Devincenzi said, “We're affecting not just the businesses along the street. We're affecting several streets of residential, as well. When I say several, it’s about three-fourths-mile radius around it, because people are going to park wherever they can park. So we had to knock on doors. Jeff and I went out and knocked on doors to tell these people personally that this was going to interfere in their day-to-day lives for three days. Not one person gave any flack about the whole thing [and] they're going to park right in front of their houses for 12 hours a day. It was very encouraging.”
Marino emphasized that this isn’t some side street in a small town that the group is transforming.
“When you talk about Route 66, Kingman’s claims to fame in Mohave County is we have the longest original intact strip of Route 66 anywhere in the country. People come from all over the world. They come through Kingman. It’s not that they stay here, but they travel the road because it is the longest still-intact piece of the original Route 66,” she said. “Now, with that being said, you'll see on the map that Andy Devine Road overlaps that. Andy Devine is a four-lane road. It’s a major artery in town that runs north and south. And we're shutting a mile of that down. To shut that down, you're talking about diverting a lot of people and, of course, it's not just for the three days of the race. You have to build the facility before, then we’ve got to tear it down.”
She said it affects everyone “from the busing systems to the school systems to the people along the roads to the businesses.” Her experience is that businesses give “the thumbs-up, going, ‘OK. Just let our employees get in here. Show us how we need to do this so you can do what you need to do.’ They have been phenomenal that they have allowed us to interfere with their day-to-day business during these 12 days to build this facility. And not begrudgingly – happily – giving us a thumbs-up: ‘Do what you need to do. We'll work with you.’”
The course is a result of strategic planning, with sponsors’ businesses lining the track.
“We are actually running this thing from the police department on Route 66 to the highway patrol. NAPA and Martin Swanty are both sides of the track,” Marino said. “Here was an opportunity to do it in front of the people who have always supported this event and sponsored this event and to do it right on Route 66. The drivers love it because it’s not just on historic Route 66, but it’s between the police department and the highway patrol.”
The timing of the Kingman Route 66 Street Drags was no accident, either. It’s located on a major thoroughfare between Dallas and Las Vegas – and the date falls between the NHRA national events at Ennis, Texas, and Las Vegas.
“Kingman, to us, is strategically placed in the western United States. If you were to make the western United States a wagon wheel, we’re kind of the center hub. We're a really good point for people who want to travel to a location from all different directions. Our date falls the weekend before the Las Vegas NHRA race. It also falls the weekend after the Dallas race. Well, I also drove a truck in my in my years of doing other things for a living, and those guys are all going to drive right through Kingman to get to Las Vegas on a weekend that they have off. What better opportunity could I supply them to stop in and look at some grassroots drag racing on the most historic road in the world?” Devincenzi said.
What spectators will see flashing past them are a full array of race cars that will be split into nine classes, from Jr. Dragsters to Unlimited.
“It's a little bit confusing,” Devincenzi said. “We do this drag race different than I think any other drag race, in that nobody when they come to register for this event looks up which class they want to put their car into. What we do is you register and then our tech inspectors – two NHRA tech inspectors – look the cars over and determine what class the cars fit into. Basically, [the process is] simple. If you have a slightly modified old-school car, you're probably in the Hot Rod class. If you have gone further, putting back-half chassis and putting slicks on it, then you're probably racing a Pro Street car. If you're a full-on race car, then you're in the Unlimited class. If you have one of these modern-day muscle cars – the new Challenger, the new Mustang, new Camaro, ones that come right off the showroom floor – those are in a class called True Street. And then of course, we've got the Truck class, the Import class, and Jr. Dragsters.” He said he especially enjoys the Jr. Dragster racers, “because that's the future of our sport.”
According to Devincenzi, “the fastest-growing portion of drag racing today is this type of drag racing. It’s the grassroots. It's the type of drag racing people can afford. When I brought this event to Kingman, my thought was ‘What does every hot-rodder want to do on a Saturday night when he backs out of the driveway? Every one of them wants to dump the clutch, fry the tires, and boil a smoke down the street. That was my intent. That's what this is about. Get out on the street, not a dragstrip. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m an avid drag racing fan, but do it on the street. Do it what we drive on every day. We want to do this and we're going to do it – right. We’re going to do it safe, and we’re going to do it in front of a whole bunch of people.”
He gets a bit nostalgic, thinking about how the Kingman Route 66 Street Drags was ahead of its time.
“It was September 2011 the last time we did this. Approximately 13 of 14 months after that, the first cable-television show about street racing, ‘Street Outlaws,’ aired its first episode. It’s basically what we were already doing with Kingman Street Drags, and they turned it into a television show. Obviously, a different vein of it, but it's still drag racing, and it's out on the streets. And that show has become incredibly successful. It has spawned three cable-television shows, and I since that day have had a little twang in my heart that we kind of lost out on something, because Kingman had that. We've done that seven times, and it was growing,” he said.
“To give you a little insight into the city's mindset back then . . . One of the city staff members actually told me two days before the event in 2011 that we had gotten too big. I never dreamed that I’d hear that phrase from the city. I thought that was my job with the event and that's what I mean about today's attitude is completely different. They understand how big it was getting. They understand its potential to get that much bigger now, and they've helped us by relocating where we are now on Route 66. This is a new location for this event in the same city. But it has allowed us to enlarge it and do things with it,” Devincenzi said.
One goal is to make Kingman a destination, not simply a place motorists drive through. Devincenzi said 30 years ago, the town had a single stoplight on the north side of the freeway and today it has a dozen. He said it morphed from a community of 10,000-12,000 to a designated city of 32,000. “But,” he said, “if I was to give you a number, I would say the number of residents in this valley is pushing 60,000-70,000.
“We bought into the city wanting to do more preservation of Route 66, too, and making people aware we want Kingman to be a destination, not that town everybody drives through going somewhere. We’re the city that sits between Las Vegas and Phoenix, two of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. So a tremendous amount of traffic travels back and forth through us going to those. I-40 goes through us from east to west. So everybody heading from the east coast to Los Angeles goes through us,” Devincenzi said.
“We're that city [about which] everybody says, ‘I've been through Kingman.’” He said he and his team want to change that to “We’re going to Kingman.” He said, “We want to be a destination.”
It is for a little more than 100 racers so far, and the list of entrants is growing. The cap is 300, and Devincenzi said, “I think we will have that filled before we ever get to the end of October.”
Marino said, “We’ve got a lot of people on the wings. I don’t know how people found out where I work, but I get racers in my office every day. They tell me how they’re working on their cars. As soon as they get their car running, they’re registering. We don’t have a brick-and-mortar office. [But] these guys just tell me about their cars – and I wish I had all day to do that. That'd be great. I always enjoy the stories and love hearing about the cars. We get a lot of registrations where people are sending us their pictures of their cars. They’re so proud of them.”
Marino said the most senior of the bunch is 77 years old.
“It seems like anybody over 60 has an old-school car. Our younger group, our 20s, 30s and 40s group, they’re got the muscle cars off the showroom floor. It's going to be quite a mixture of vehicles out there, which is great for the spectators. It’s what everybody wants to see,” she said. “And we’ll have some cars on display, as well.”
They include the renowned ’68 Hurst Hemi Under Glass, the longest-performing iteration of any in the series. Mike Mantel took over the car in 2016, and the car’s home is Kingman. Mantel also owns the original Little Red Wagon, the vintage-1965 first-ever wheelstander.
Devincenzi said the Little Red Wagon will run at the Kingman Route 66 Street Drags and that Mantel said the Hemi Under Glass will be on display. “He’s not certain whether that'll run. I think if we get enough audience support and we tug at his heartstrings, we might get him to do that on the street. I’m overwhelmed that we have two legendary vehicles like that here for our event.”
Marino has a vision for this event that mirrors the one Wally Parks had for the NHRA nearly 70 years ago: “Our goal is to educate people that they can race on a street, have a lot of fun with all the safety factors in place – so that they're not doing like we did as kids and going out on a back street somewhere and getting hurt. We just wanted to give them a venue to do that.”
The Kingman Route 66 Street Drags promises to be a combination drag-racing festival, a magnet for car lovers and nostalgia buffs, community-builder, Chamber-of-Commerce moment, and a modern example of what can happen when people work together.